Free Market Central Interview: Scott Rasmussen On Why The Deep State's Days Are Numbered [Watch]
The Trump economy may be achieving high marks. But America has yet to recover from the political malaise of the Obama years. The country remains on edge, roiled by everything from partisan witch hunts, NFL protests and Antifa violence—to threats from a nuclear North Korea and domestic terrorism.
Polls show that most Americans are downbeat about the direction of the country. Are they right? Free Market Central put the question to longtime political observer Scott Rasmussen, founder of Rasmussen Reports and co-founder of ESPN. In his book, “Politics has Failed: America Will Not,” he explains why the pessimists are wrong—and also why the days of the "deep state" are numbered.
A majority of Americans today believe the country is on the wrong track. You once felt the same way yourself. What made you change your mind?
It was a process. First, seeing [politics] up close caused me to lose faith in the political system. I began looking for solutions and saw great hope in technology and the culture. But I didn't put it all together until a fire destroyed my home on March 13, 2010. The response from the community was overwhelming and helped me realize that's the way things get done in America. Community problem-solving was the answer I had been looking for.
Can you elaborate?
After the fire, the outpouring of support was unbelievable. I can’t tell you how many people offered us clothes or food or a place to stay. Some belonged to our church. Others did not. Restaurants offered us free meals. I’ve been involved with volunteer activities all my life. Still, I never really thought about just how powerful it could be.
To get through the shock and then the rebuilding, we needed our local government, our insurance company, our church, local businesses, our neighbors, and the kindness of strangers. That gave me the framework for understanding and the basis for optimism.
Do you think people sufficiently appreciate the importance of community in these situations?
As Americans, we see these stories but don't give them enough credit. Too much coverage is given to the political angle. Yes, government has a role to play, but it's not the lead role. We need an all-hands-on-board approach to meet the needs of people in trouble.
But don’t we need government entities like FEMA in major emergencies?
There is certainly a role for government. But, too many [people] act as if the government is the only institution for governing society. The popular dialogue is filled with the dangerous idea that we do our private things in the private sector and work through government for everything else. Instead, we should recognize that every institution and relationship has a role to play in governing society and addressing the challenges we face.
We can argue all day about the proper role for FEMA or the wisdom of its policies. But, we must recognize that there is much more to meeting the needs of those in dire circumstances. That's true after storms, it's true for addressing the needs of people in poverty, and for every other challenge.
You lost everything in that fire. What went through your mind recently when viewing the images of millions of people who lost their homes in the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico?
One thing that always pops into my mind is that nobody can really understand what it's like unless you've been there. My wife used to get really upset when people would tell her all the things they would have done or the things they would have gotten before leaving. No, you have no idea. The emotions are still somewhat raw 7 years later.
A major theme in your book is that “politics is downstream from culture.” What does that mean?
Our public dialogue pretends that the government and elected politicians lead the nation. But that's simply not true. Culture and technology lead. Politicians lag behind.
The War for American Independence began 15 months before the Continental Congress drafted a Declaration of Independence. It was an important document, but it did not lead the nation. It gave voice to what had already been decided in the culture.
In 1964, Congress passed a Civil Rights Act. But that was 17 years after Jackie Robinson broke the major league color barrier. It was 9 years after Rosa Parks made her courageous stand. Congress didn't act until public opinion had already decided the issue.
The world we live in today was shaped more by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs than by the combined efforts of all 8 presidents who have served since the creation of Microsoft and Apple.
Isn’t Ronald Reagan the exception? What he did to liberalize the economy through deregulation and tax cuts spurred the historic growth that gave rise to those companies and countless other innovators.
Ronald Reagan was the greatest president of my lifetime and I am thankful for all he did.
But Reagan did not create the tax revolt [that set the stage for tax cuts]. He gave voice to it and helped move it along. Remember, Reagan was elected more than 2 years AFTER proposition 13, [the property-tax cutting initiative that started the movement for lower taxes], passed in California.
You devote a good part of your book to discussing something that troubles libertarians: the rise of the administrative state. You think its days are numbered. Why?
I call it the Regulatory State since that seems to convey more of the meaning. I believe it is being doomed by cultural trends. Prior to the 1970s, both American society and government grew more centralized, homogenized and bureaucratic.
Then we encountered what I call the Great Turnaround. For the past 40 years, society has been decentralizing and becoming more personalized, helped along by the rise of cable TV, the Internet, and mobile. But government has resisted and continued centralizing. This disconnect cannot last. A one size fits all government cannot survive in the iPad era.
President Trump has already rolled back many rules imposed by regulatory agencies. Will some agencies actually be abolished?
President Trump has started the process. I think Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court will also play a vital role by helping rebuild our system of checks and balances.
But more than that, we need to solve problems in creative ways. Rather than fighting for the ideal political outcome, we need to develop solutions on our own, outside of government. To cite two examples, digital revolution is giving us ways to re-invent education and health care.
One intriguing solution you propose is giving more power to the states.
Everyday Americans have far more control over state and local government than they do over the federal government. State and local governments are constrained and held accountable by market forces. People can vote with their feet to choose the right balance of lifestyle, opportunity, and cost. But the federal government is subject to no such constraints (very few would consider it a viable option to leave the country).
While I generally prefer action outside the formal political arena, my one legislative effort would be a twist on the idea of sunsetting all new regulations. Instead of requiring that all regulations die after some time frame, I would simply have them shift from the federal government to the states. State governments would then be responsible for enforcement and would also be free to modify the regulations. Congress would almost certainly be more willing to let the regulations shift to the states than be eliminated completely.
Great idea. To conclude, would you care to expand on one of the observations that you make in your book: “the American people don’t want to be governed from the left, right, or even from the center. The American people want to govern themselves.”
Almost all of us believe we have the right to do what we want with our lives so long as we respect the rights of others to do the same. Americans believe in the founding ideals of freedom, equality, and self-governance.
Our challenge is to show how we can honor that commitment, build unity out of diversity, and move the nation forward. I am optimistic because I know technology is shaking up the status quo. It's making new solutions available every day.
Some much-needed optimism. Thank you for talking with us today.